In August 2018 Indonesia hosted the 18th Asian Games, welcoming athletes from 45 countries to compete in 47 events. Spread across multiple cities, the games provided a springboard for regional infrastructure development as well as a spotlight for the country’s tourism industry. Events were hosted across 28 venues in Indonesia, with Jakarta providing 14 and the South Sumatran city of Palembang seven. The remaining seven venues were spread across cities in the West Java province, namely Bogor, Bekasi, Tangerang and Bandung.
With 1.5m inhabitants, Palembang is the second-largest city on the island of Sumatra after Medan. According to Statistics Indonesia, in 2017 the municipality’s gross regional domestic product (GRDP) was estimated at Rp130.4trn ($9.2bn) at current market prices, up 9.9% from 2016, and contributing nearly one-third to South Sumatra province’s total GRDP. The manufacturing sector is a primary driver of local economic growth, contributing 32.8% to total activity, followed by the construction sector with 18.2%, and wholesale and retail trade at 16.2%.
The city boasts a track record of organising largescale sporting events, hosting the 26th South-east Asian Games in 2011, the 17th ASEAN University Games in 2014 and the 2017 Asian Triathlon Confederation’s Triathlon Asian Championships. Aside from sports, Palembang also held the 26th Sriwijaya Festival in 2017 – a nationally renowned arts and culture event.
Central to the city’s capacity to host major sport events is the Jakabaring Sports Complex (JSC), an integrated sport city opened in 2004 and located some 5 km away from the city centre. Six out of Palembang’s seven Asian Games venues were located at the JSC, which includes an artificial lake, a beach volleyball arena, a shooting range, a bowling alley and the 23,000-seat Gelora Sriwijaya Stadium – one of the largest multipurpose stadiums in Indonesia.
Extensive preparations were also made elsewhere in the city for the 18th Asian Games, with popular local sites, notably the Musi River area, the Al Quran Al Akbar religious site and the 18th century fortress Kuto Besak, undergoing restoration in preparation for the event.
In August 2018 Palembang registered 2263 foreign visitors at its local airport, a 91% increase on July 2018 and a 60% increase year-on-year. To ensure improved mobility during the events, the city completed its long-awaited light rail transit (LRT) project in July 2018. With costs estimated at some Rp10.9trn ($772.9m), the 24.5-km LRT route spans 13 stations, connecting Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II International Airport to the JSC.
While the LRT project is widely credited with preventing congestion during the event, it has yet to emerge as the main mode of transport for locals in Palembang. From the 1.09m passengers who rode the LRT between July 2018 and February 2019, 265,000 used the airport service, indicating that it is disproportionately popular with tourists as opposed to locals.
To a certain extent, this can be attributed to the absence of an urban transport ecosystem, as issues with land acquisition delayed the construction of pavements and parking spots close to LRT stations. At the same time, relevant incentives to promote public transport, such as an odd-even vehicle usage policy or parking price surges, have yet to be put in place.
With the 18th Asian Games having run smoothly, the event’s organisation received praise from the International Olympic Committee, put Palembang on the map as a regional sports destination and created positive economic multiplier effects for the city.
While public transport developed for the game has yet to be fully embraced by locals, the event gave impetus to Palembang to address its most pressing infrastructural and mobility challenges. Attempting to build on the positive momentum, the central government announced in February 2019 that it would bid to host the 2032 Olympics in Jakarta, highlighting the country’s ambition to organise a truly global sporting event.